By Kristen Anderson
CHARLOTTE – Thomas Joffs, a 2020 graduate of Ardrey Kell High School, began service as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints this month. Because of the global COVID-19 pandemic, his experience will be different than expected.
Like many 18- and 19-year-old Latter-day Saints, Joffs looked forward to submitting his missionary application.
“Since I had been a little kid, I had the desire to go and serve a mission,” he said.
Latter-day Saint missionaries serve voluntarily and fund the experience themselves. When they submit their mission papers to church headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, they do not know where they will be assigned or whether they will have to learn a new language.
These unknowns make receiving a mission call an exciting experience for families. Until recently, the notification came through the mail. Now it is delivered digitally.
“You are assigned to labor in the Peru Trujillo South Mission and will prepare to teach the gospel in the Spanish language,” read Joffs’ call.
Typically, a few months after a mission assignment is received, the missionary enters one of 10 Missionary Training Centers throughout the world. This is where new elders and sisters (as male and female missionaries are called) receive religious training, and if necessary, culture and foreign language instruction. One of the MTCs is in Peru, so that is where Joffs was scheduled to spend the first eight weeks of his two-year assignment.
With the continuation of the global COVID-19 pandemic, however, Joffs’ missionary experience is turning out to be much different than he had imagined.
Approximately 50% of the more than 67,000 missionaries serving around the world had their assignments changed or shortened. Many are now serving in their home countries. Additionally, instead of visiting people in their homes, lessons are taught over the phone or through various video platforms. Instead of knocking on doors, they are using social media to reach people.
All Missionary Training Centers are temporarily closed too, so new missionaries are receiving their training virtually in their homes.
Though at first disappointing, Joffs has adjusted well to the new arrangement.
He dresses daily in his missionary attire: a suit, white shirt, tie and missionary nametag. He has an assigned companion with whom he virtually studies with every day. He also follows all missionary rules, which means he doesn’t spend time watching television, playing video games or visiting friends. It has been easy for him to separate himself from previous pastimes, Joffs said.
Although at home, his schedule is similar to what it would have been if he had been sent to the Peruvian MTC: waking up at 6 a.m. (7:00 a.m. in North Carolina), and preparing for the day by exercising, showering and eating breakfast. He then studies scripture and Spanish on his own for two hours. Virtual classes with a group of other missionaries, who are also learning Spanish, begin at 10 a.m. and last until 9 p.m., with breaks throughout the day.
Joffs said having a job as a teenager helped him develop important management and interpersonal skills, but the training is still difficult.
“I previously thought that when I was set apart as an elder I would immediately be made smarter and I would know exactly what to do in every situation,” he said. “We all have quite a ways to go before we are ready to go out into the field.”
His local ecclesiastical leader, Bishop Jeff Herbst, is certain he will do well.
“Elder Joffs has shown great faith in Jesus Christ the three years I’ve known him,” he said. “This faith, combined with his confidence and work ethic will allow him to have an everlasting impact on those he serves as a missionary.”
That impact, for the time being, will be in Baltimore, Maryland, where Joffs has been reassigned until it becomes possible for him to serve in Peru.
“I do wish that I had the chance to go directly to Peru where I was called, but [God] loves all His children across the world and I am grateful that I can serve His children here in the U.S. and in Peru,” he said.
His family is finding a bright side to these changes as well.
“While I prayed that my son would have the opportunity and experience of the [regular] MTC, this experience has been wonderful,” said his mother MeKell Joffs. When he finishes his studies, “he shares his day with the family, a luxury that wouldn’t be afforded in a normal world … Sometimes we sit outside and talk while watching fireflies and sometimes we walk around the neighborhood. We are grateful for this missionary setback and the blessing it has been in our home.”
As Joffs finishes up his training, he remains enthusiastic about the future.
“I could not think of a greater time to be a missionary,” he said. “With the uncertainty and fear the world is facing right now, the message of life, peace, and love … will mean more to those we teach – now more than ever.”
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